“Are you a homosexual?”

John Stoehr, our friend at the New Haven Advocate, has a new article about independent Catholics, both radical and reactionary. It begins with the story of Rev. Shawn Smith:

[T]he day he asked to enter the seminary was essentially his last day as a Roman Catholic. It changed the course of Smith’s life and it illustrated the puzzling and conflicted place of the Roman Catholic Church in the 21st century, as an ancient institution in a struggle with a fast-changing world. On that day, in the offices of the diocese in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula, his bishop welcomed Smith with wide-open arms. Just one question, though.

“Are you a homosexual?”

Bishops are hardly required to vet future neophytes like this, but the practice, uncomfortable and invasive as it is, appears to happen often enough. Curiously, instead of turning him down for speaking the truth, the bishop invited Smith to inquire at another diocese, a surprising move that reflects the complicated moral stances of the Church.

“That was a call to action for me,” Smith says. “That I’m a homosexual person does not matter to God. We should treat each other the way Jesus treated others.”

To Smith, God is a small-c catholic. His love is omnipresent, never-ending and absolute. Being blocked from “the call of Christ” was a revelation to Smith: The universal Roman Catholic Church wasn’t universal after all.

Keep reading for a big helping of background, with the help of Hofstra historian of American Catholicism Julie Byrne.